The world in which Cartier’s [SUR]naturel collection launched was inconceivably different from the one in which it was conceptualised. When the high jewellery collection was unveiled at the start of July 2020 (during Paris Haute Couture Week), the globe was adjusting to being in lockdown while Singapore stepped gingerly out of its circuit breaker. But if there’s one thing  that can be gleaned from the reaction to [SUR]naturel, it’s that the desire and demand for craftsmanship and beauty will always have a place in society. (By the time BAZAAR’s live digital presentation took place on 9 July, several of the pieces had already found their forever homes). 

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Comprising 93 creations that look to Mother Nature for inspiration, the collection presents designs that range from the figurative to the abstract, with a visual stream of consciousness that shows the Maison’s confidence and mastery over the theme. “Cartier has put forth a robust interpretation of nature from its very beginning,” says Cartier’s Creative Director for Cartier Prestige Jacqueline Karachi- Langane, who joined the brand as a jewellery designer in 1982 before moving up the ranks to helm its fine jewellery, exceptional objects and fine jewellery watches today. “There has always been something fundamental about the way Cartier represents nature: It should never be taken at face value; it is always reflective and never literal. There has always been a desire to say more, make something unique to Cartier, tell a story and present ideas that fuel the imagination— now more than ever,” she says. 

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Jacqueline Karachi-Langane, Creative Director for Cartier Prestige. (Photo: Cartier)

What is the driving force behind [SUR]naturel?

It all started from the desire to look at nature differently and express it in another way using our vision and contemporary vocabulary. We wanted to reveal another facet of it with our modern creative audacity. The creators [at Cartier] immersed themselves in the gems’ evocative power for inspiration, giving rise to borderless nature capable of transporting us to an imaginary world. Designs were stripped back to play up different natural characteristics, leverage on the senses and focus on the essential. What matters in this collection is the paradox between nature and abstraction. To this end, the designers focused on one element in particular [for each design]—the way water moves, the structure of a plant, the scales or fur in the case of fauna. Taken out of their usual context, these elements then took on lives of their own. 

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Gold and multi-gem Panthère Tropicale. (Photo: Cartier)

How does this collection add a new chapter to Cartier’s heritage for natural designs?

[It does this] through three ways: Naturalism, stylisation and abstraction. It includes the whole story of creation at Cartier, which has always been about questioning the perception of forms. This is all the more true for us today. The most obvious is naturalism, which reproduces nature. Stylisation is powerful and evocative, and it describes the act of simplification to arrive at the essential element of the design—this pared-down method is actually the most complicated for designers. As for the abstract approach, everything becomes more radical, until nothing remains of the original except the essence of nature. Rather than limiting ourselves to one narrative representation, we added a sensorial dimension: Guided by the stones, the designer interprets, deciphers and expresses sensations like that of  fur slipping between the fingers when you stroke a panther. When used to embody water, the evocative gems can conjure up anything from ocean waves to peaceful lake water. It’s an entire sensory repertoire to complement Cartier’s vocabulary regarding nature. 

[SUR]naturel platinum, kunzite, opal and diamond Hemis necklace (Photo: Cartier)

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How does your belief in the evocative power of gems play out in this collection?

The Panthère Tropicale, [for example], perfectly illustrates how nature is perceived by Cartier. From coral, aquamarines, tourmalines, and the [diamond-and-onyx] panther fur motif come earth, water and animal life. [The yellow gold] helps balance out a [bangle watch] that plays with proportions and mixes materials. It’s rare to find coral in such great lengths and the technical challenge involved in shaping it only makes it more precious. The watch’s crystal is also interesting in its complexity; it adopts the faceting of the stones to ensure that it blends in naturally with the rest of the piece. 

The making of the Hemis necklace with its 71.08-carat cushion-shaped kunzite. (Photo: Cartier)

You’re a strong proponent of honouring traditional haute joaillerie techniques—but with a modern twist. Can you walk us through an example of this? 

The Tillandsia [necklace] features an exceptional pair of 83.23- and 81.09-carat oval-shaped beryls that appear to float above a diamond lattice. The diamonds and beryls are suspended and do not touch, so that light can burst forth or flow freely, depending on how you look at it. It’s a skilful design that gives two perfectly paired gems both life and lightness. The asymmetry of the design, with its playful curves and counter-curves, and the two central stones that are slightly offset from each other, creates a sense of movement within the piece. Transparency is a creative and technical challenge; the designer and jeweller make it a strength to showcase the structure of the jewellery, which becomes ethereal and graphic. 

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[SUR]naturel platinum, Zambia emerald and diamond Gharial necklace. (Photo: Cartier)

How would you distil Cartier’s design ethos into words?

Paying attention to the resonance of gemstones is the very essence of the Cartier style: The stone is the focus of every Cartier creation. The design and composition are determined by the stone, as they  serve to showcase; [they] should never infringe upon the reading and revelation of the  stone’s beauty. But the added value of the design is also part of the Cartier style. There’s nothing trifling about a Cartier design; it’s indeed the strength of the design that sets Cartier apart. All in all, the motifs, forms and signature Cartier repertoire create a specific language for the Maison. 

Gold and multi-gem Panthère Tropicale jewellery watch. (Photo: Cartier)

What would you say today’s women are looking for in the  high jewellery that they purchase and wear? 

The clientele is extremely diverse. A single collection can express many  things, with the different chapters appealing to very different personas. These pieces are full of personality, with a strong creative specificity that speaks to the heart. Emotion is an essential and a determining factor in the choice of our clients, who are highly informed, have a keen eye for jewellery and are conscious of the image that their jewellery will project. Collectors, [on the other hand], look at the criteria of a collection and are more concerned with the artistic dimension, new aspects and surprising choices of stones. The role of jewellery in society has evolved: High jewellery can now be worn for more casual and private occasions as well as grand events. Nowadays, our collections have broad-ranging international appeal. I’m thinking of our Tutti Frutti or multicoloured pieces: The unconventional aesthetic initially appealed only to a Western clientele; today, it makes an impressive benchmark for the art of jewellery.